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234                                                                                                B- POLEVOI
He now wrote to her every day, but of what value were
these letters addressed to some field post office? Would
they reach her in the confusion of retreat, in the inferno
of the gigantic battles that were raging in the Volga
The airmen's sanatorium buzzed like a disturbed bee-
hive. The customary recreations—draughts, chess, vol-
leyball, skittles and the inevitable vingt-et-un which the
patients who were fond of a thrill used to indulge in
among the bushes near the lake—were abandoned. No-
body could give his mind to such things. Everybody,
even the most inveterate sluggards, were up in the morn-
ing an hour before time in order to hear the first, seven
o'clock, war report over the radio. When the communi-
que mentioned the feats performed by airmen, everybody
walked about gloomily, found fault with the nurses and
grumbled at the food and the rules, as if the sanatorium
staff were to blame for the fact that they were hanging
around here in the sunshine, in the tranquil woods near
the mirror-like lake and not fighting over there, over the
steppe near Stalingrad. At last the convalescents declared
that they were fed up with being convalescents and de-
manded their discharge so that they could return to their
Late one afternoon, a commission from the Personnel
Department of the Air Force arrived. Several officers
wearing the insignia of the Medical Corps alighted from
the dust-covered car. From the front seat, leaning heavily
on the back rest, stepped a stout officer. This was Army
Surgeon First Rank Mirovolsky, well known in the Air
Force and loved by the airmen for the fatherly way in
which he treated them. At supper it was announced that
next morning the commission would select volunteers
among the convalescents who desired to shorten their
sick leave and be sent to their units immediately.
Next morning, Meresyev rose at dawn and without
performing his customary exercises went off to the woods
and remained there until breakfast time. At breakfast he
ate nothing, was rude to the waitress when she chided him
for leaving his food untouched, and when Struchkov
remarked that he had no right to be rude to the girl who
only wanted to be kind to him, he jumped up and left